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Place (I)

Posted by Priscilla on March 19, 2013

The house of my childhood, the odd handiwork of Swedish missionary, Mr. Silfwerbrand, perched ten or more steps above the surrounding houses on the little hill it shared with woods. From my bedroom tucked under the slanting, tar-papered ceiling, the woods looked black at night, its trees and branches, leaves and grasses smudged into indistinctness as if an artist had rubbed wet paper across his charcoal drawing.

I could not see into the woods, but I knew it held wickedness and trouble. What came out of the woods and took my black spaniel from the tree to which he was tied? We never knew what happened to him. How long did the watcher in the woods stand and wait for my father to snuff the lights -- wait until he was sure we were all asleep?

My mother felt his hands running lightly over her. She screamed and he ran, but the back hall door still swung on its hinges, unlatched and un-shut. Our home was open to the woods that night.

My parents retreated to the second floor of Mr. Silfwerbrand’s cottage; they and my younger sisters joined me up the steep stairs, stairs so steep that when two-year-old Anne tumbled down them, Dad hired a carpenter to change the angle to fifty degrees. Now, every night he rolled a metal drum, full of off-season clothes, on top of the trap door. We were safe.

But in the day, we acted out our fears by playing Billy Goats Gruff underneath and atop that trap door. Running across the trap door, hoping the Troll did not spring up from beneath the bridge, screaming when he did: in all these ways, we exorcised darkness.

When we were older, and discovered darkness in places other than the woods, playing Billy Goats Gruff could not suffice. Now, we performed plays on the porch that extended off the side of the house behind French doors and heavy curtains. And in those plays, we made life the way we wanted it to be. We gave sense and consequence to events we thought too bleak and to people too sinister. We carved order for ourselves.

Place provided our fears. Place inspired our creativity. Place supplied the way for us to face the world and give our answer.

What does this mean for the writer?

It means that place (setting) might do more for creating identity than we realize. It means that place may very well be the most important element of the tale.

What do you think?


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